Pope Francis has decreed 2021 as a Special Year dedicated to Saint Joseph (December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021) on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation that Joseph is Patron of the Universal Church. It was Blessed Pope Pius IX who signed the decree, Quemadmodum Deus, on December 8, 1870, attributing this title to the holy saint.
To mark the anniversary, as well as the start of this Special Year, the Sovereign Pontiff published an apostolic letter, Patris Corde, which begins: “With a father’s heart: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels refer to as ‘the son of Joseph’ (Luke 4:22). The aim of this apostolic letter, he stated was “to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal”, and above all, to obtain “the grace of graces: our conversion”.
Pope Francis’ letter is accompanied by a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary announcing the Special Year of Saint Joseph and the granting of the “gift of special indulgences” (see page 6).
The Gospels do not say much about this great saint. None of his words are quoted, but his deeds of immediate obedience to God are relayed. The Gospel concludes that Joseph was a “just man” (Matthew 1:19), faithful to the will of God. We cannot refrain from considering how great must have been Saint Joseph’s virtues for God to entrust him with the protection of His most valuable possessions: His Divine Son and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote about the great saint: “There are saints who have the power to protect us under given circumstances, but Saint Joseph was given the power to rescue us from all adversity, and to safeguard all who have recourse to him in a spirit of piety.”
Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657), a priest from France and the founder of the Sulpician order, wrote: “The admirable Saint Joseph was given to man to express the adorable perfections of God the Father. In his person, he carried God’s beauty, His purity, His love, His wisdom and prudence, His mercy and compassion. Only one saint was meant to represent God the Father, while an infinity of creatures, a multitude of saints, are needed to represent Jesus Christ; because the whole Church is needed to express outwardly the virtues and perfections of its adorable Head, while Saint Joseph alone represents the Eternal Father...
“This is why we must consider Saint Joseph to be the world’s greatest, best known, least understood... The Father chose this one saint to be His image upon earth. He gives him, as though to Himself, a resemblance to His invisible and hidden nature, and as far as I can see, this saint is beyond the reach of man’s capacity to understand.”
For the last 150 years, other popes have written on Saint Joseph. Pope Francis wrote, in Patris Corde: “After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse. My predecessors reflected on the message contained in the limited information handed down by the Gospels in order to appreciate more fully his central role in the history of salvation. Blessed Pius IX declared him Patron of the Catholic Church (December 8, 1870), Venerable Pius XII proposed him as Patron of Workers (May 1, 1955) and Saint John Paul II as Guardian of the Redeemer (apostolic letter, August 15, 1989). Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the Patron of a Happy Death” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1014).
In 1889, Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical letter, Quamquam Pluries, explained Pius IX’s decision to declare Saint Joseph Patron of the Church: “The divine household, which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church. From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are His brothers.
“And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided especially to his trust – this limitless family spread of the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus Christ, he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.”
In 1989, on the 100th Anniversary of Quamquam Pluries, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in an apostolic exhortation, Redemptoris Custos: “Inspired by the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church from the earliest centuries stressed that just as St. Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, that is, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model.
“Joseph, guardian of the Son of God… Since it is inconceivable that such a sublime task would not be matched by the necessary qualities to adequately fulfill it, we must recognize that Joseph showed Jesus ‘by a special gift from heaven, all the natural love, all the affectionate solicitude that a father’s heart can know’. Besides fatherly authority over Jesus, God also gave Joseph a share in the corresponding love, the love that has its origin in the Father ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Eph 3:15).
We can finally add that since 2013, the name of Saint Joseph has been integrated into the canon of the Mass. Good Saint Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family and Patron of the Church, pray for us, protect the Church and protect families!